NAIDOC Week Artist Interview: Katina Olsen

It’s NAIDOC week, an annual national celebration held from the first Sunday of July, to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC week consists of events and celebrations across the country.

Performing Lines has the privilege of working with a host of First Nations artists across a wide spread of disciplines, in each of our state offices. Their insights and creative practices form an invaluable part of our artistic footprint as an organisation. This NAIDOC week we have spoken to a small handful of the First Nations artists with whom we work.

Our second interview is with Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri woman Katina Olsen; dancer, choreographer and one of the stars of Sunshine Super Girl.

How are you keeping busy these days?

The running joke with anyone that knows me well is that I’m always keeping a little too busy. This year I’ve been really fortunate to work on a number of dance projects: I began the year on Kabi Kabi Country in development with independent dance artist Courtney Scheu on her new work SAND, then drove to Sydney for a development with Meryl Tankard for a new work KAIROS. I flew to Mount Gambier to work with my Dance Makers Collective colleague Anya Mckee on our new work Woman’s Work, then remounted and toured our Dance Makers Collective’s show THE RIVOLI through regional NSW. I finally took some time off with the family over Easter then back at it… up to Kukuyalanji Country (Mossman, Qld) for an on Country research trip for Preparing Ground, a new work I’m co-choreographing with Marilyn Miller and Jasmin Sheppard, then flew across to Yawuru Country, Broome for an amazing Dramaturgy Lab with Marrugeku. Then after all that, I flew into Mparntwe (Alice Springs) where I’ve just had the pleasure of spending 6 weeks in development for 3 new works (including one of my own called White Lies) for GUTS Dance.

Right now I’m on a flight to Ngaro Country, The Whitsundays to take another mini break (phewww) before another Preparing Ground research trip to Tagalaka Country (Croydon, Qld) before I’m back to Sydney remounting Sunshine Super Girl with Andrea James and the team for our big 5 month tour!!!

 

Katina Olsen, a Wakka Wakka and Kombumerri Woman smiles to camera. She is fair skinned and has long golden blonde hair. She wears a grey jumper.

What does this year’s NAIDOC week theme, “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!” mean to you? To whom do you think it’s speaking?

I think this year’s NAIDOC theme is speaking to everyone! I would love to see more non-Indigenous people take time to consider what it means to them, what it means to show up alongside First Nations people to be the allies we need them to be in their work and their daily life… not to speak for us but to pass the mic over and help carry the load. Caring for Country and community is everyone’s responsibility not just ours. Give us space that will allow us to lead the way in sharing our own story and looking after our people and Country.

For me, Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! means following in my incredible and fierce elders’ footsteps, but doing it in my own way. I do this by continuing to use the platform that I’m privileged to have as an artist to share story, educate and fight for a world that honours our people, our land and our culture. My ancestors have passed the baton and it’s my turn to continue the fight for First Nations justice through my art.

What role do you think the Arts play in the broader struggle for First Nations justice and decolonisation?

I’m currently doing the Future Leaders program through the Australia Council and the awesome Wesley Enoch was invited to do a session with us. One thing that Uncle Wes said that’s really stayed with me is “artists are like the un-elected politicians in our society”. This was incredibly affirming to hear. There is SO much power that we have as artists to invite new ways of thinking and make social change for the better. As long as First Nations people are in the driving seat and in positions of leadership (not just a tokenised member of casting or a guest choreographer here and there), I believe we’ll continue to see significant change where it is desperately needed.

What’s inspiring you at the moment?

Oooof, so much! I’m always inspired by the land and sky. I’m often flying around the country for work and am OBSESSED with viewing the landscape from above! The flight I took a few months ago from Broome to Darwin absolutely took my breath away, it baffles me how anyone would want to destroy this land.

I would also have to say ALL of the amazing artists and collaborators that I get to work with and that I’ve worked with these last few years. The art that we make and conversations that we have honestly fills my heart with so much gratitude (and relief) to be surrounded by the people that I am on a daily basis. Andrea James (writer and director of Sunshine Super Girl) is also a huge inspiration. It’s been a massive privilege to work alongside her bringing Evonne’s story to life. I cannot wait to get back into it in a few weeks and share it with the rest of the country!

Who are some First Nations artists and voices that you think everyone should be following?

Firstly listen to your Elders, or the local Elders in your area… they are incredible sources of wisdom and help us understand how to keep considering our place and impact on this earth.

Lately I’ve been reading Victor Steffensen’s book Fire Country and Jazz Money’s book How to Make a Basket.

Music: King Stingray! I’m waiting for the full release of their self titled album next month… I’ll keep flogging their song Camp Dog until then. I’ve also been listening to Alice Skye, all her music has been SO good for all this rainy weather. I was blasssssting Sycco, Barkaa and Thelma Plum for most of last year.

Dance: I want to watch and hear anything from my friends Daniel Riley and Jasmin Sheppard, we both joined Bangarra as young company members back in 2007 and now it’s amazing to see them both individually go on making their own work and becoming the fiercely graceful leaders that they are. Ella Havelka, I love seeing what she is doing with the Ella Foundation, providing scholarships for young First Nations ballet students for their dance training. Also, Karul Projects (Tom and Taree are superstars!), anything Vicki Van Hout writes and makes, Lost All Sorts Collective (up and coming superstars of dance), and anything Carly Sheppard makes or performs in! I’ve been devastated that I’ve missed a lot of her work lately because I’m always working/performing in a different city.

Lastly, now that I’m on a little break I’m about to binge watch Mystery Road Origin on ABC iview.

Three First Nations Australian performers each dressed in Wimbledon Tennis Whites, are mid air while performing a choreographed dance on a set made to look like a tennis court.

Katina Olsen is a dancer / choreographer currently based between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Kicking off her professional career performing and touring with Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2007; she now works as a freelance artist performing, choreographing and collaborating with artists in Australia and Internationally. She will soon be appearing in the national tour of Sunshine Super Girl.

View her full artist profile here.

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.